Karate-Obi Preview

For some odd reason I’m the guy many people thinks is obsessed with belts, due to my research on the history of the belt system.

However, I haven’t actually owned very many belts, nor have I owned many belts from varying companies. All my original colored belts, and my original black belt, were made by ProForce.

My opinion on ProForce belts is that they are a really decent quality for a very affordable price. For example, that is what my ProForce black belt looked like after 15 years of wear and tear.

Besides those I’ve had a Fuji white belt which came with my Judogi, as well as a Ronin Brand green belt, which I also use for Judo.

To be honest the Ronin Brand (the most expensive colored belt I’ve owned) is my least favorite. It is thinner, harder, and the fabric twisted making it hang oddly. Granted I think the twist is just a fluke. However that’s not what this review is about.

Today lets talk “custom” black belts. As I said I don’t own very many, and my original black belt was just a standard ProForce belt. Back when I got it it cost around $5. But these bad boys? Closer to $100!

So what do you get for $100?

For starters, most martial arts belts are mass produced in Pakistan and shipped worldwide. However, most custom belts are made in countries with higher work standards, maintaining more ethical work conditions.

They offer one sided embroidery. This of course is primarily an aesthetic preference, but the only way to do one sided embroidery is to embroider the belt before it gets stitched together. Otherwise the embroidery will show up backwards on the back of the belt.

The back side of the Satori and Tōkaido obi.

That being said, I once knew an individual who got a tattoo by taking his belt to a tattoo artist and requesting the kanji on his belt to be tattooed on his chest. The practitioner didn’t actually know which side was the “front” of his belt, nor did the tattoo artist, so he ended up getting the symbols tattooed backwards on his chest. I never had the heart to tell the guy, and eventually he left martial arts. As they say ignorance is bliss. I’m sure that tattoo still means a lot to him.

For those unfamiliar with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing systems, this is a common mistake.

They generally use a more durable core. Many cheaply made belts use loose cotton or polyester batting (similar to the inside of a quilt), or even just a strip of foam! However the core on more expensive belts are usually a weaved together cloth belt, similar to belts used by the military.

There are more rows of stitching along the length of the obi.

Some will say that the more rows of stitching there is the longer the outside sheath will last. There is this belief that karate belts fray from the outer edge towards the center. While there is a grain of truth to this, for those of use who utilize throws and ground fighting, we’ve not had the same experience, as the whole width of the belt is rubbing against the ground and your opponent.

Satori: 14 rows
Tōkaido: 11 rows.
Fuji and ProForce Lightning: 9 rows.
ProForce and Ronin Brand: 8 rows.
The most frayed part of my original ProForce belt after 15 years of use.

Finally, with custom made belts you often get a wider variety of widths, thicknesses (weight), exact lengths vs numbered sizes, etc. The Satori obi my sensei ordered for me is a standard width. However, my Tōkaido was ordered with additional width. This makes it so that the knot is slightly larger when tied, and takes a bit of additional time to break in. The wider Tōkaido is also a bit softer, but as I’ve never owned a standard width Tōkaido belt, I can’t say if their standard width is just as hard as the Satori obi.

However, having been training for around 25 years I can say this, many cheap, mass produced belts will last just as long as an expensive belt. Regardless of the price the outer sheath will fade and fray. The inner core will also eventually become frayed as well. (Tōkaido especially is known for the fact the core becomes very stringy after the outer sheath rubs away.)

An example of a Tōkaido belt that has long lengths of sting from the core fraying.

I’ve talked about this before, but for those who love the frayed look expensive Satin and Silk belts fray faster than Cotton and PolyCotton blends. For those that don’t care about single sided embroidery (or embroidery at all), plain belts are often 1/2 to 2/3 the price of an embroidered belt from the same company.

Manufacturers may not like me saying this, but when it comes to a belt just made for training, often that $5 to $10 belt will do the job just as well as that $100 belt.

Published by mattskaratecorner

A martial arts student and instructor. A school teacher and researcher. A curmudgeon with a lot on his mind.

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